With a district-opening loss impending, Ryan senior defensive end Nolan Robinson burst across the line of scrimmage.
The Raiders were perilously close to losing a game they couldn’t afford to lose if they wanted to gain the highest possible playoff seed when Robinson delivered the biggest play of the game.
He rammed Flower Mound Marcus quarterback Andrew Parish to the ground, jarred the ball loose and recovered the lost item, setting Ryan up for a district-opening win.
The Raiders (5-0, 1-0 District 5-5A) will look to pick up their second district win tonight when they travel to Hawk Stadium to face Hebron (3-3, 0-1) at 7:30 p.m.
A year after being named to The Associated Press’ all-state first team, Robinson, the son of a former NFL player, leads the Raiders in five defensive categories, including tackles for loss (seven), sacks (three) and quarterback hurries (six).
“We’ve always felt like Nolan’s one of our better players,” Ryan coach Joey Florence said. “The only issue we had with Nolan is his size, and he makes up for that with his effort. He’s got a very high motor.”
Florence compared Robinson to former Ryan defensive end Brian Smith. The Ryan coach said Smith’s lone Football Bowl Subdivision offer came from Missouri. Smith finished his playing days at Missouri in 2006 as the all-time sacks leader in the Big 12 Conference, a record Smith still co-owns.
Robinson is listed on the Ryan roster with a height of 6-1, and he said he put on about 20 pounds from last year’s frame that boasted 190 pounds.
Florence’s membership in the 200-win club was sealed in part by Robinson’s fourth-quarter sack against Marcus. It was the first fumble recovery by Ryan’s defense this season. When asked if Ryan would have won last week without the big sack and forced fumble, Florence recoiled as he thought about it.
“Ooohh,” Florence said as he paused for thought. “I don’t know. I can tell you what — that was huge. That was a big play. It was just a very tough ballgame. If we had to drive the length of the field to score, I don’t know if we could have or not.”
The lineman has carried on a gridiron tradition started by his father. Bo Robinson was an AP All-America selection as a fullback at West Texas State (now West Texas A&M). The elder Robinson played at Lamesa, about 75 miles northeast of Odessa, and spent seven seasons in the NFL. He played two years in Detroit, three years in Atlanta and two final years with the New England Patriots.
Bo Robinson, the son of a cotton and grain farmer, spent his final year in the league on injured reserve with a pulled abdominal muscle and on the practice squad during the Patriots’ run to Super Bowl XX in 1986.
“I started playing sports to get off the farm, because if I didn’t play sports I’d have to go work after school,” Bo Robinson said. “My dad would come in, pick us up and take us out to work on the farm.”
Nolan’s mother, Nelda, said she remembers when her son wrote a paper about playing professional football. She liked the name Nolan, and had picked his middle name in hopes of her son having a future in a less violent sport.
“I wanted him to be a baseball player, so I named him Nolan Ryan,” Nelda Robinson said. “He won’t even play baseball. He played a couple of years, but he said it wasn’t for him.”
Instead, Nolan chose the sport his father played, the sport his father coached him in when he was about 6 to 10. Most of his father’s collectibles from his playing days are in boxes until the pair moves into the home they’ll retire in.
Nolan is taking a different route to following in his father’s footsteps. Robinson said he receives weekly letters from Kansas State — letters that express interest in Robinson — but that’s it for now. Robinson and teammate Alex Funches are headed to Central Oklahoma in a couple of weeks to watch a game, as that school is interested in both defensive linemen.
“He’s quiet, but he’s a leader,” Funches said. “He proves himself on the field about how he’s a leader. He doesn’t really say much, but when he’s in the game, he doesn’t have to say anything to prove what he’s doing. People look at Nolan as a leader. That’s my boy.”
Robinson understands he’s undersized to be a defensive end in college, and he said he wants to play linebacker if he does play at the next level. Robinson, who takes exceptional care of a wardrobe that features almost exclusively Ralph Lauren items, wants to work in business when he gets out of school instead of toiling on a football field.
His father and former coach said he’s proud of his son and hopes he’ll be lining up for a college team next season.
“I’d love to see that,” Bo Robinson said. “I’d love to see him get a scholarship and play college ball. But like I told him, if he gets a scholarship, it’s about the education. Anything that happens after that is gravy. I’d love to see him go on, but we’ll see.”